Wednesday, February 13, 2008

On behalf of the future

Spot noticed the re-emergence of a couple of perennial issues at the Legislature this year: bonding for road and bridge repair and a dedicated sales tax for the environment. Now, Spot thinks that all these things are good ideas, but he thinks that future generations ought to be given the opportunity to disagree. Here are Spot's musings about some of these same things from a couple of sessions ago:

It seems that everyone in Minnesota these days has a plan to tie up or bind the future in a way that takes a pet political issue off the table. It is sort of like writing in a will that Johnny is disinherited if he marries Jill (or Jack!) or fails to go to medical school, or whatever. Boys and girls, let’s look at some examples.

The gay marriage amendment ban is the pre-eminent example. Moral clucks like Katie who have an out-sized view of their own moral understanding and authority want to decide the issue of gay marriage rights not only for themselves, but for others and for the future. On behalf of the future, Spotty is offended. But Katie is not the only one.

The governor’s proposal to borrow a few billion dollars and try to bond our way (the governor calls it “investment”) out of the transportation mess in Minnesota is another. By refusing to raise more gas tax revenue (Spot has posted too many times about the governor’s veto of the transportation bill with a dime a gallon increase last year to link to), the governor is proposing tie the hands of future generations who will be saddled with the debt service on things we should have paid for out of current revenues.

And how will we pay that debt service? Well, the governor says, the dedication of the motor vehicle sales tax to transportation, on the ballot for a constitutional amendment this fall, will cover it.

Presently, the motor vehicle sales tax goes into the general fund. The state is barely in the black, as you know, boys and girls. Dedication of funds currently unallocated will result in shortages elsewhere, as City Pages writes in the article The Road to Perdition. More binding the hands of the future. [This is now law, boys and girls, perhaps exacerbating the current budget shortfall.]

One final example: Ron Schara writes today about an effort to pass a constitutional amendment to dedicate a portion of the general sales tax to natural resource protection. The environment is an issue pretty close to Spotty’s heart, but again, we’re trying to tell the future how to spend its money. Maybe the future will decide, if a depression comes around, that it would rather spend the money to keep people from starving. Shouldn’t the future be able to make that choice?

Each of these cases springs from a belief that the proponent knows best for all of us for all time, coupled often with a desire to avoid present responsibility for what we want.

Spotty says consider these issues with humility before you decide you know what is best for future generations.

We hire the Legislature to make these decisions for us. It's a frustrating bunch sometimes, but Spot prefers it to the dead hand reaching into the future.

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